As for his role in contention it would seem that it will play out in one of two ways. (The third way which I discussed about a month ago, is obviously not a legitimate option in the organization's eyes.) The first way that Soria could play into the Royals future is as the closer. Make no mistake about it Soria could very easily fit into this team's future.
Of course now is when you respond by saying "thank you captain obvious." The reason I say this though is because when reading outside sources they often seem to act as though since the Royals aren't contending now, there is no reason to keep him when they could trade him for pieces that fit into the future wave. This thought process is flat out wrong.
Soria is under team control through 2014 and while this doesn't directly coincide with the controlled years of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy. It does overlap by three and a half seasons. After which all three of the aforementioned players will hit arbitration and become more expensive.
People argue that it doesn't make sense for a non-contending team to keep a quality closer. However, if this team truly wants to and thinks it can contend as early as next season it will be important that the 9th inning is locked down and we know that Soria can do that.
But there is also another way in which Soria could play a key part in the future of the Kansas City Royals. That is by trading him. As we nearly found out the shelf life of elite major league closers is not nearly as long as we would like to believe. Also, given the way in which closers tend to be overvalued in comparison to their true value as judged by WAR, VORP and other sabermetic measurements it makes sense to flip a closer for more valuable parts.
If Joakim Soria has truly regained his value since his return to the closer role, then the Royals need to strongly consider offers for him. When you look at how next year's roster is taking shape there are a couple of glaring holes: starting pitching and catching. Also, when you look at the middle of the order for the coming years it would also seem that the Royals could use an elite right handed bat to stick in between Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
It is true that the Royals could probably get by in the catching front with a veteran in the Matt Traenor mold. They could also wait and hope that Salvador Perez pans out in the way that they are hoping. The Royals also could have that middle of the order right handed bat playing right field Northwest Arkansas right now.
But consider that Salvador Perez wasn't even rated in the top 10 catching prospects by mlb.com and that Wil Myers probably needs the rest of this season in Northwest Arkansas and could benefit by a full season in Omaha. Given this timetable he would be positioned for a promotion in mid April 2013. Effectively delaying his free agency two years later than Moustakas and Hosmer, while also positioning his controlled years closer to his peak years of control.
There is a team out there that could fit the Royals needs in a trade for Joakim Soria. It also happens to be a team that has been hot and heavy for Soria for years, and according to sources has been in discussions with the Royals on the matter for the last week. That team is the hated New York Yankees.
So let's examine what a deal could look like between the two clubs:
Romine entered the season rated as the number six prospect in the Yankees organization and the number 98th overall according to Baseball America. Romine is considered a well rounded prospect that has a good shot at staying behind the plate. Reports are that he has cut down on his passed balls, however, he still owns just a 25% career caught stealing percentage. Scouts say he has a strong arm so I speculate that this is more mechanics and footwork than anything else.
Romine has improved his catching and his bat. This season he is hitting .291/.353/.408 in double-A. If he was acquired he could catch the remainder of the season in Omaha and if he showed enough with the bat could be given the opportunity to open the 2012 season as catcher for the Royals.
It would seem strange that the Yankees would be willing to part with two of their strong catching prospects. However, I speculate that since the Yankees have a short term solution in Russel Martin they may be willing to wait for Gary Sanchez who could be the best of the bunch. They also have J.R. Murphy who is a pretty good catching prospect himself.
Betances entered the 2011 rated as the number 43 prospect by Baseball America and as the third best prospect in the Yankees organization. He is a 6-8 righty that can dial it up into the mid 90s. He also has a great curve that some rate as a 70 on the scouting scale. Whether he winds up as a front in starter or dominant reliever will hinge on his change up which is average at best. Some scouts believe that the change up could one day be his third plus offering.
Betances currently boasts a 2.37 era in 64 innings at the double-A level. He could be Major League ready by Opening Day next season and could be a work horse front end guy. I am not sure if the Yankees would consider dealing him in a trade already involving Jesus Montero, but he along with the next pitcher would have to be at the top of the list of pitchers to inquire about.
Interestingly enough Banuelos entered the year ranked fourth in the Yankees system behind Betances, but 41st overall two spots ahead of Betances in Baseball America's top 100. Banuelos is listed at 5-10, 155 and pitches from the opposite side of the rubber as Betances. The Mexican native normally sits in the low 90s but has hit 95 on the gun in the past.
Banuelos is also regarded for having top notch command. His changeup and curveball could one day be plus pitches and are already above average offerings. Banuelos has currently logged 69.1 innings this season in Double-A. He has a 3.38 era while posting the highest walk rate of his career at 4.8 per 9. The Yankees seem to be enamored with Banuelos so I don't know that the Royals could pry him away in a deal.
Noesi doesn't have quite the prospect flair as either of the two other pitchers we have discussed, but he is just twenty-four years old and owns a 3.20 career era over 373.2 minor league innings. He has only pitched in 20.2 innings so far in 2011, but has posted a 3.92 era in Triple-A. The concern is that his walk rate has spiked in those innings and his k rate has taken a dip.
He is near major league ready, but only really projects as a back end starter. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and he has a good changeup with tailing action. But without a breaking pitch his potential is limited.
Warren like Noesi has been an extremely effective starter in the minors despite not having the prospect status like Banuelos or Betances. Warren owns a career minor league era of 2.45 with a k:bb of 3:1. His fastball hits the lows 90s with a bit of deception. He has a fringey changeup and throws a cutter and curveball that need to develop for him to be a front end guy. If his breaking stuff doesn't develop his fastball could be good enough to land him in a big league bullpen.
Phelps is very similar to Adam Warren. Phelps often works in the low 90s and he also has a decent curveball. Entering the season it was said that he needs to develop his change up into an average pitch at least in order to really develop into a strong prospect. He may be doing that considering he has a 3.38 era in 85.1 innings for Triple-A Scranton. His k rate is currently 7.8 and his walk rate is 2.3. These numbers suggest that he is near Major League ready.
In my opinion the Royals would need to get the following Jesus Montero, plus either Austin Romine, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and also one of Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, or David Phelps. Another prospect that could be discussed is Slade Heathcott. He doesn't directly fit into the Royals needs for contention, but the guy has five tool potential and could be a steal if the Royals acquired him.
It'll be tough for the Royals to pull the trigger in a deal for Joakim Soria. He represents so much to the organization and particularly the scouting department. They shouldn't make the deal unless they are blown away. But it is possible that a deal could be presented to make the move worthwhile.
If the Royals can fill multiple holes by dealing Soria it could push them closer to contention. If they traded Soria in a deal like the one I just mentioned they could then also look to move Billy Butler, given that Montero could take his spot at DH. Crow could move into the closer's spot and another starter could be ready to fight for a rotation spot.
The Royals are in a good position there are two routes they could move in. They could stand pat and play it safe. Giving them a closer for the next three and half seasons that could be lights out. Or they could roll the dice and risk winding up with less, opening a hole at the back end of the pen while not filling the holes they were expecting to. Or the trade could pay off and Crow becomes a dominate closer, with Montero becoming the second coming of Cabrera and a pitcher establishing themselves as a key member of the rotation.
What do you think?